The Jackson Town Council heard a flurry of impassioned pleas from downtown business owners at their meeting Monday night before approving a modified plan for traffic and pedestrian access intended to spur the local economy during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The council listened to several business owners who said any loss of parking spaces to accommodate more pedestrian traffic and social distancing in the downtown area would harm their businesses.
Amy Cooper has managed the Pendleton store at 30 Center St. for more than 21 years, she said. She was critical of any plan to decrease parking downtown and said she and her employees need the spaces to get to work. Parking for employees downtown is already too limited, she said.
“I can’t even tell you how many [parking] tickets I’ve had this past year,” Cooper said during the public comment portion of the meeting. “I can’t even imagine if you take away all these spaces.”
Cooper was one of several downtown business proprietors who decried any proposal to eliminate parking spaces.
John Bickner, who owns Beaver Creek Hats and Leather, 36 E. Broadway Ave., said, “If we lose our parking on Broadway, we lose business. That’s it.”
But Wes Gardner responded that business owners and their employees need to stop complaining about any perceived lack of parking for customers when they’re using spaces in front of their businesses for themselves. Gardner, who owns Teton Toys, 10 E. Broadway Ave. across from the Town Square, also opined that the foot traffic of tourists — as well as their health and safety — was more important to accommodate.
“I want to thank the town for putting a plan out there and trying to create a safer downtown space, realizing we’re in the midst of a pandemic,” Gardner told the council.
Gardner said he understands business owners’ concerns about parking, “but we also need to make sure that everyone feels safe in the downtown environment,” adding that the business owners need to do a better job of managing parking.
Ultimately, the council voted to adopt a modified version of the plan recommended by town staff after several weeks of work and planning. The approved version lessened the potential pain from lost parking downtown, while making room for “parklets” and significantly expanding space for pedestrians to social distance while downtown.
The council also improved four other staff-recommended options to help stimulate the Jackson economy, after dropping two other options regarding food trucks that were discussed at the council’s previous meeting June 1.
At the June 1 meeting, Town of Jackson Community Development Director Tyler Sinclair presented seven options to the council for consideration: Signage and messaging; Use of public spaces; Food trucks on private property; Food trucks on public property; Extended sidewalks/street closure on Center and Deloney Streets; Parklets in public rights-of-way for private use; and Downtown cleaning and sanitizing.
The two options regarding food trucks were removed from consideration at Monday’s meeting, and the council discussed and debated the remaining five for nearly an hour and a half before voting on the remaining measures. The council had also discussed the “reopening downtown” issue for hours at the June 1 meeting.
Specifically, the council approved creating 6 more feet of pedestrian sidewalk space by turning the vehicle traffic on Center Street between Broadway and Gill Avenues into one-way traffic from south to north. There will still be parallel parking between the expanded sidewalk and vehicle traffic between Broadway and Deloney.
Two nodes for additional pedestrian or table space were created — one on the northeast corner and one on the northwest corner of Town Square — by removing three diagonal parking spaces from each of those corners, as proposed by Councilor Arne Jorgensen.
At the end of the day, after the council had endured two consecutive more-than four-hour meetings and were browbeaten by a number of business owners, those six spaces were the only spaces removed immediately by the council.
Jorgensen noted during a Tuesday afternoon interview, however, that it’s important to bear in mind that a few more parking spaces could also be lost as businesses apply for parklet space to expand their seating options. Jorgensen also said that the council could be forced to revisit the issue if the summer turns out to be exceedingly busy and more public right-of-way is needed for pedestrian traffic.
The initial town staff proposal, presented Monday by Sinclair, would have removed all parking on the south side of town square on Broadway and had that space dedicated to pedestrian traffic and parklets. Sinclair said in his presentation to the council that there had been pushback from business owners on that option.
The proposal, prior to the council’s approved modification, also would have removed all parking on the south side of Deloney between Cache and Center Streets, which abuts the north side of town square. That, though, was replaced by Jorgensen’s suggestion to create the nodes in the corners of the square.
“The goal here is to create a safer downtown,” Jorgensen said in the interview. “The goal isn’t to remove parking; it never was.”
The councilors and Sinclair all agreed that the changes will be closely monitored and can be adjusted as needed. Sinclair said in a Tuesday interview that he expects town staffers to have a good feel for the effectiveness of the changes after about a week of observing pedestrian and vehicle traffic patterns.
While parking and extended sidewalk space were the hot issues regarding the “Reopening Downtown” initiative, the council also voted on the other four issues, with the orders all passed and set to end Oct. 31.
The council voted unanimously to empower town staff to work with the Jackson Hole Travel and Tourism Board to create enhanced signage and messaging in the downtown area, including information about restrooms on Deloney Avenue. The signage will be uniform, Sinclair said, and cost the town around $500.
On the “Use of Public Space” agenda item, the council approved the purchase of six picnic tables and four trash cans for Miller park, six picnic tables and four trash cans for Town Square, and 10 sets of bistro tables, chairs and trash cans for use in “parklets” in areas around Town Square. Sinclair said the total cost for those will be just over $17,000.
The council also voted unanimously to allow town staff to approve parklets outside of restaurants and retail spaces, where traffic would be blocked off and businesses could place tables and chairs to create more dining space. Any fees associated with those applications were waived by the council.
Town staff were also given the green light to handle any permitting issues related to serving alcoholic beverages in those public rights-of-way.
Lastly, the council agreed that town staff should set up hand-sanitizing stations around the downtown area, though Councilor Jim Stanford bristled at the idea of spending the proposed $5,000 on those stations. Instead, Stanford urged staff to set up more makeshift stations. The rest of the council agreed, noting that if anything approved wasn’t working or needed to be changed, they could revisit that in an upcoming meeting.